Varieties of participation

March 11, 2010

In the EU eGovernment Benchmarking 2010+ report by Alexander Schellong advantage is made of the “democracy cube” developed by Archon Fung, I presume, one of his colleagues at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Fung’s paper, recipient of 81 citations to-date, is entitled “Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance” and is well worth a read in its own right.

Two brief sentences from the conclusion, starting on page 23 say it all for me:

“Citizens can be the shock troops of democracy. Properly deployed, their local knowledge, wisdom, commitment, authority, even rectitude can can address wicked failures of legitimacy, justice, and effectiveness in representative and bureaucratic institutions.”

“Reaping (indeed perceiving) these pragmatic benefits for democracy, however, requires a footloose analytic approach that jettisons preconceptions about what participatory democracy should look like and what it should do in favor of a searching examination of the actual forms and contributions of participation.”

Currently we are recycling mechanisms of approaching citizens and pretending they are new and open. Real change will require real changes.

Benchmarking the nations

January 17, 2010

The United Nations issue a benchmark report on e-government sporadically and a new one is in the offing, although I’ve seen some countries declaring how well they’ve done already, including Vietnam.

Prior to this years report some academic work was done to reconsider the metrics used in the EU by Alexander Schellong at Harvard, which may or may not have affected the methodology employed by the UN. Interesting though the report is, it still fails to point to the value the citizen might or might not place on e-government, e-governance or the actual government services involved. However he does state that for EU nations “Since Lisbon, benchmarking activities are a cornerstone of the EU’s “open method of coordination””, which explains something of the fixation they have with it and the report now admits that the time for a change has come, since for the study “the most common critique being that the benchmark’s only focus is in on the supply side of eGovernment.”

The report further states “unfortunately, the development of a relevant and universally accepted benchmark for eGovernment will continue to be a challenge around the globe. Many aspects of eGovernment, especially transformation or its impact are difficult to capture.” This is where I believe that (dis)satisfaction comes in, since it picks up on those outcomes from service delivery that is affected by transformation and the delivery itself.

However, as it currently stands, it looks like old-time benchmarking for the EU, with no feedback from the citizen. Although the proposal stands to involve them in setting some new benchmarks at some time in the future…


On another matter Professor Ann Macintosh of Leeds University is giving a lecture entitled “The Internet, Web 2.0 and ‘having your say’” at the University of York on 17 February 2010 at 6:15 in Room P/L001, Physics. The Great E-mancipator’s author may be lurking in the audience if he can get away from work!